By Matty Hume, September 7 2018 —
The University of Calgary’s Students’ Union has released their municipal advocacy priorities for the 2018-19 executive term. SU president Sagar Grewal presented the four primary points of advocacy, which surround civic elections and student-focused suggestions to improve Calgary transit, to the Students’ Legislative Council on Aug. 14.
“The document essentially outlines our priorities for the City of Calgary to best improve the student experience at the U of C,” Grewal said. “We do have four main points on the document, the biggest ones being reforming the transit fare system, revising the process for appealing transit tickets, increasing consultations with the university, post-secondary institutions and students’ associations and increasing access to civic election voting.”
In terms of transit fare reform, the SU is calling for an electronic fare system, which has been successfully implemented in public transit systems in many major Canadian cities. But over the past decade, Calgary has developed a history of attempted electronic fare systems falling off the rails. In 2015, the City of Calgary cancelled it’s CONNECT electronic fare system due to technical failures such as paid fares being unrecognizable on bus readers. According to Global News, the city hired Schneider Electric to develop the system in 2010, which was cancelled in 2012, brought back in 2013 and ultimately scrapped. In 2017, Calgary Transit considered implementing a mobile ticketing system through a smartphone app, which never came to fruition.
Grewal says an electronic fare system will have other benefits for students.
“I think some of these do go hand in hand. When it comes to reforming transit fare, the biggest thing we’re talking about is moving towards an electronic fare system which has many benefits for students. For example, this allows us to have access to data to better understand how students use transit,” Grewal said. “Currently, we can’t really understand the habits and trends of students using transit so that data would be extremely valuable to improve it. In other ways, an electronic fare system could be a lot more sustainable. Right now you have to rely on transfers, you have to rely on tickets. Or in the case that a student forgets their UPass one day, they can pay with debit or credit and reduce their chance of getting a ticket.”
Transit tickets and their accompanying fines are another central advocacy point for the SU. Specifically, the SU is pushing for a municipal tribunal system to handle transit tickets, which are currently handled within the provincial court system.
“We need to look for a better solution, such as a tribunal, to ensure students aren’t paying transit tickets through the provincial court system,” Grewal said. “It’s a very rigid, overburdened and expensive system to go through, so flexibility is extremely valuable for students.”
According to Grewal, each advocacy point goes hand-in-hand. For example, the point of creating a consultative body between the City of Calgary, post-secondary institutions and their respective students’ associations can directly increase the SU’s ability to advocate for the other three priorities.
“Increasing consultation by forming a body composed of City of Calgary representatives, post-secondary institution representatives and then their respective students’ associations can be a mechanism to get us all at the table,” Grewal said. “And maybe the three other advocacy points can be discussed at that table as well.
“Other students’ associations would love to be a part of that so we all have a seat at the table,” Grewal continued. “If there are places where the city and institutions and students align or disagree, at least we can figure that out and discuss it.”
The SU’s fourth municipal advocacy priority is to ensure students have access to on-campus municipal voting, considering the commuting nature of Calgary’s post-secondary institutions.
Normally, advocacy efforts at all levels are spearheaded by the SU’s vice-president external, but that position will remain vacant until a byelection in October, following Puncham Judge’s resignation in April. Due to the vacancy, Grewal is currently undertaking undergraduate advocacy himself.
“Frankly, it hasn’t been too big of a challenge because both [the VP external and myself] have presence advocating on these issues,” Grewal said. “It would be the VP external and myself going to these meetings anyway, so it’s myself really leading the charge. Once we have a VP external, they’ll have the ability to take charge of advocacy at all levels.”
Since an incoming VP external will be elected based on their own unique platform, these advocacy priorities have the potential to change once the position is filled, according to Grewal.
“I think a great thing about our municipal priorities, since they’re of our own organization as opposed to a larger advocacy group, is we have the ability to revise them continuously which is something we currently do,” he said. “Because we constantly get great feedback from councillors, representatives from the city, servants, as well as just other stakeholders. We’re constantly trying to revise these because we’re constantly trying to make them the best possible.”
The SU’s municipal advocacy priorities are available here.